Persona 5, the latest addition to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, swaps traditional gaming norms for an utterly stylish and charming experience. From the bold black and red graphics bouncing across your screen, to the flowing illustrations that carry the protagonist through the spirited cityscapes of Tokyo, it’s a game about moral complexities and finding the power that lies within. But the beauty of Persona isn’t just superficial. It’s ruthless gameplay system constantly evolves, which lends itself to over 80+ hours of a confidently executed RPG.
The coming-of-age series is part social simulator, part dungeon crawler. You take the role of expelled and disgraced student, Akira Kurusu who is forced to leave his hometown and enrol in Shujin Academy, following an entanglement with the law. By day, you perform the typical, uniform school-day activities – attending lectures, café hopping, and chilling with friends.
By night, however, you are the leader of the Phantom Thieves, a ragtag group of idealistic teens that infiltrate a cognitive reality called the Metaverse. Here, the corrupted hearts of adults have manifested as Palaces. The colourful troupe must sneak through a series of lavishly complex chambers in the hope of stealing the deviant’s heart – represented as ethereal treasure –and erasing their poisonous influence on society.
Now that may sound terribly dull to some, but it’s what makes Persona such a radical success. Developing genuine connections with your friends, unearthing their deeply suppressed feelings and stories is equally as difficult as battling a multiple-phase dungeon boss.
Within these theatrical realms, lies Personas – angels, succubi and weirdly chiselled man-owls. Every creature is equally unique – and bizarre. Each Persona battles using elemental attacks and while physical moves are an option, they are mostly used to chip away at health points incrementally. Exploiting an enemy’s elemental weakness transcends the ordinary, button-mashing battle, to a flurry of crushing combos.
Once you’ve toppled the quirky beasts, you can launch an All-Out Attack and watch as your team’s silhouettes dance across a striking red background, viciously dismantling enemies until they burst into a shower of blood. Welcome improvements to the combat system mean Persona is an intuitive, fluid process of chaining attacks and exploiting weaknesses; which culminates into a host of stylish victories.
Now, if you’ve already identified an enemy’s weakness, simply tapping R1 pulls up the ability you need. And before you know it, the Shadow will be begging for you to spare its miserable life.
For the early Persona fan, the much-improved Negotiations system will be a familiar sight. If you knock down a Shadow, you’ll surround it with your guns drawn and either commence the communal attack or simply chat to them.
As nonsensical as the game is, comforting a giant, insecure demon sitting on a toilet is possibly the strangest aspect of Persona 5. Whether you’re successful or not, negotiating is always beneficial. You can demand an item, money, or a monster’s allegiance – the latter depends on your gift-of-the-gab.
The Palaces are where you’ll spend most your time. Given form by the distorted desires of powerful, fiendish individuals, the process of infiltrating them is played out like an extravagant heist. Before exploring the Palaces, however, you must first identify your target. Conducting various investigations in the real world will unlock a new area and the quest to steal their corrupted heart will begin.
It is, compared to previous instalments, the best series of dungeons Atlus has developed. No longer – thankfully – are you galloping through levels of procedurally generated corridors to reach the big boss at the top of the tower. Instead, each new Palace is delicately designed and contains a myriad of puzzles to solve, traps to avoid, and of course, Shadows to pummel.
Quite an interesting addition to the series is the stealth mechanic. Of course, incorporating stealth into an RPG is questionable – *cough* FFXV – but thematically and narratively, it works perfectly in Persona 5. Since you’re a band of thieves, it makes sense that you initiate a battle by sneaking behind an enemy, hopping on their shoulders and ripping off their face.
Persona games survive on characterisation as much as they do through their RPG elements. And the latest entry – while it may be a slow-burner – delivers a cast that is equally loveable, wacky, and nuanced.
Although it has the potential to overwhelm, both mechanically and narratively, the writing strikes a beautiful balance, eliminating any unnecessary exposition. But most importantly, it ensures storylines are clear and concise, allowing everyone – particularly newcomers – a chance to fully appreciate the game.
Atlus has executed its vision exceptionally well. A game filled to the brim with innovation and visual flourishes, Persona 5 is a gaming marvel and a truly standout entry for the beloved series. It’s a polished, alluring and effortlessly stylish RPG, and one that was most definitely worth the wait.